Monday, 23 January 2012

What Do You Love About Your Story?

When you first come up with an idea for a story, you don’t have to think too hard about what it is you like about the story. Something catches your interest. One idea follows another and you’re off and running.

Later, when you’re deep in the belly of the beast, maybe stuck in the middle of the first draft, or struggling with the umpteenth rewrite, the very point of writing as a use of your time comes into question. You liked the idea as an idea, but this sprawling mess in front of you doesn’t seem to be that thing at all.

Why are you even bothering? Who is going to read this? Aren’t there already a thousand stories like this? What’s on TV?

You have to be able to hold onto the thing that made you want to write this particular story. When the going gets tough (and it will) you need that thing to get you through. But first you need to work out what thing is.

Often, writers don’t like to pinpoint their own view on their writing. What they like. Why they like it. It feels like you’re killing the magic if you do that. But you can’t be a magician and also be delighted by magic tricks. Comedians see the punchline coming. It’s hard to hold onto the joy of stories when you start writing seriously. The joy in other people’s stories gets less easy to see, and the joy in your own can disappear altogether.

I would suggest this. When you write a story, try to think about what it is about the story that appeals to you. I don’t mean a pithy logline in 25 words or less. This isn’t an exercise in marketing to lazy agents. Consider what aspect of this story is most attractive to you. It can be as clichéd and corny as you like. The idea of a girl with everything against her, getting the guy. The loser who everyone’s has written off turning things round. The couple who hate each other who end up together. Whatever, just be honest with yourself.

A novel is a big undertaking. It takes something akin to obsession to complete. It doesn't matter what grabs your attention, it's not what the reader's going to see, it's for you personally. Own up to it, and then enjoy it.

But be wary of cheating yourself. Let’s say you’re writing a romance where the couple start out detest each other, and then get together. Personally I’m very fond of those sorts of stories. I like to see them at each other’s throats and my desire to see them get together keeps me invested. But if I was the writer, I get to control what happens and it would be very tempting to slip in a line here or there suggesting the characters will get together. She slams down the phone and calls him all sorts of names, and then thinks about his gorgeous blue eyes, damn, if only he wasn’t so handsome.

In effect what I’m doing is myself the ending I want early-instant gratification. That nod to her undeniable attraction to him tells me, and the reader, don’t worry, these two kids belong together, and suddenly all the tension is gone. From me, from you, from the story. And now I just don’t feel as interested in it anymore. Strange that.

When we write the kind of stories we like to read, those parts that feel frustrating are what give us the big rush when we get to the finish. If you slipping in little nods and winks to a happy resolution, you’re not doing yourself  or the reader any favours.

The other thing to bear in mind is that once you identify what it is that turns you on about the story you’re writing, don’t start with that element, build up to it.

That’s not to say you should digress for the first fifty pages—you need to make it as interesting as possible—but if you get into it right away, you’re going to eat all the favourite chocolates first and be left with the cherry liqueur.

If you’ve got a Cinderella story, and the suffering of poor, perfect Cinders is something that always warms your heart (she did nothing to deserve such horrid treatment, just like me at high school) then don’t start with that part of the story.

I’m not saying make the thing you like the central and most obvious part of your story. You definitely shouldn’t do that. But be aware of that aspect of the story. Build up to the good bits. Don’t cheat yourself by rushing to a happy ending (or sad ending if that’s how you roll), deny yourself as long as possible. And when things get a bit like hard work, remember the thing that got your juices going and see if you can’t work a bit more of that into the story.
 If you found this post interesting, please give it a retweet. Cheers.


Gary Gauthier said...

Excellent post. The analogy you make using magicians and comedians works nicely and is absolutely true. You may have given me an idea for a blog post. If I use your premise, I will link to this article.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

As I am working on my third book right now, I can see the aspect that appeals the most to me. It's not the main storyline, but more like a subplot that focuses on character development. And at the moment, that is definitely not what I am writing.

Christine Rains said...

Great post! With the book I'm revising, it's the characters and the essence of the story itself that keep me going. There's a lot of rewriting to be done, but I have faith it's still, at heart, a good story.

Mary Mary said...

What almost always appeals to me in the beginning is the setting and the time period. I write historical, so when I'm looking for a new story to write I'm always looking at time periods. There some that really fascinate me and so I'm always wanting to place characters there. Intriguing post! It really made me think.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Mood,

I like your passion in this post. A writer does need to LOVE the story they are writing and putting off the climax/happy ending does add to the tension and build up, so the gratification will be that much sweeter when the reader arrives there.

I love and ADORE my first novel... it still needs some fine tuning, but it will get there in time.

My current novel is much more intense. This story needs to be told because it hits many social issues; child abuse, alcoholism, and dysfunctional characters. People that are REAL and horror stories that happen every day... unfortunately.

IT drained me and still does when I make revision. I might just have one more. My MC does keep his sense of humor though and laughter through tears is one of my favorite emotions.

Ninja Girl said...

Great post! You're right about the love. You've got to hold onto that passion you have for your story or else what's the point?
Thanks for this,
Ninja Girl

Anonymous said...

I think I have a somewhat new niche. Sure, wormholes have been used but not very much in the modern day world. My book is not set in the future, not in outer space, and no green men or people with pointy ears. Just average people with an above average breakthrough and not quite sure what to do.

mooderino said...

@Gary-glad to be the source of inspiration.

@Alex-third book already, that's quite the old hand you've become.

@Christine-rewriting is one of the places where holding onto the original spark can really help.

@Mary-when the whole world you've created is fsscinating for you, I think that must make it easier to stay hooked.

@Michael-passion in writing is key, I think.

@Ninja Girl-cheers.

@Stephen-but will it keep you excited when writing book 2 and 3 and 4... (sounds like a good idea for a series, then a movie maybe?)

Rachna Chhabria said...

I just love this post. When I start writing I am in love with my story, while editing the rose tinted glasses are stripped off and while querying I get extra critical about my story.

Lydia Kang said...

So true. We have to hold on to the vision of our original ideas so we can muck through the hard parts of writing.

Julie Daines said...

The book I just finished was meant to be a suspenseful romance. And it was, sort of. But it mostly turned out to be the story of a kid reconciling with his dad. Not sure how it happened. But I love it anyway.

Jessica Salyer said...

Great post. This came just when I needed it. Thanks for the great advice.

mooderino said...

@Rachna-it's so easy to turn what we love into a chore.

@Lydia-everything makes sense when we start, and nothing makes sense when we get stuck.

@Julie-sounds like it worked out for the best. Wish it would for me.

@Jessica-Hi and thanks.

Rena J. Traxel said...

In the novel I just finished writing I rushed a chapter or two at the end because I didn't want to write it anymore. But I went back and fixed the chapters and now I couldn't be happier. Great post!

Jeremy Bates said...

its true... the beginning and end of a story are the easier parts... its the middle that can get mucky... its what i think writer's block is... not necessarily not getting anything down on the page, but getting the wrong stuff down.... this recently happened to me.... i was forcing stuff down but it wasn't feeling right so i sat back and reevaluated it all and came up with a way to get by........

mooderino said...

@Rena-I think the last chapters rush is a common thing, and not at all a bad thing. Working on something finished is a lot more fun than that struggle to complete the first draft.

@Jeremy-I think once you accept some parts are going to be a nightmare, that you will eventually sort out, you can approach it without feeling panicked.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

For me, I get attached to a character and then start to flesh out the world to give him interesting things to do. I think lives should be exciting, so I endeavor to have my character live the most exciting life I can possibly imagine. All of that "excitement" is the thing that keeps me interested because it's like a puzzle for me...I look at pieces and decide whether or not they would be worthy of becoming a part of the whole.

Melissa Sugar said...

I really like this post. It is a good idea to go back and remember what you loved about your initial idea. Now that I think about it, it does not involve the main story line or even one of the bigger plot twist. What I loved first about my most recent idea deals with character growth or emotional development arc of the protagonist.

I have a hard time believing you were anything, but wonderful in high school. You just need to show those meanies how far you have come in life.

Melissa Sugar said...

I need your email. I am trying to compile a list of all participants in my prize give a way and send an email letting each know how many entries they have, 1 for post, 1 for comment, 1 for word "Leap", 2 for tweet, two for fb, and 5 for a post about contest. Thanks
You can email me at

nutschell said...

Another stellar post. Your passion for writing really comes through. It's true! We writers need to constantly remember what made them write their stories, and what they love about what they're writing. It keeps us going, and keeps us from giving up completely on writing.

Nancy Thompson said...

The aspect that mattered to me most in my first novel is the same thing that matters to me in my second, though I haven't started writing it yet. It's the visceral bond between two brothers and the outside forces that overtake them. Yet the two stories are entirely different.

Karen Lange said...

You know, I've been thinking about this lately in light of my WIP. Debating about how to proceed and whatnot. Thanks for the food for thought!

mooderino said...

@Michael-living an exciting life would keep things interesting (I assume).

@Melissa-thanks. Have emailed you.

@nutschell-cheersfrom one passionate writer to another.

@nancy-of course it can be something different every time, or the same thing in a different way.

@Karen-and thank you.

gaylene said...

I need to find the love again... I've ripped that story apart so many times, I feel lost when I open it to finish rewriting the last three chapters. Even after putting it away for months. But I also can't stop thinking about the characters and story, so it's not a "stick-it-in-a-drawer-forever" story. I keep hoping one of these days I'll feel unlost when I open it.

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